Dr. Laura Bukavina Wins ASCO Genitourinary Conquer Cancer Merit Award for Microbiome Research in Bladder Cancer

PHILADELPHIA (January 27, 2022)—Laura Bukavina, MD, MPH, a Urologic Oncology Fellow at Fox Chase Cancer Center, has been awarded the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Genitourinary Conquer Cancer Merit Award. She will present the winning abstract, which characterizes the gut microbiome of bladder cancer patients, at the 2022 ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium in San Francisco, which is being held February 17-19.

The broader research project is a collaboration between researchers at Fox Chase and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine/University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, where Bukavina completed her urology residency in 2021.

“Ninety percent of your immune system is within your gut,” said Bukavina. “And we see that some patients have an incredible response to chemotherapy, while others do not despite their tumor biology being very similar. This may in part be explained by the gut immune system and gut microbiome,” Bukavina said.

“It is incredible to think that as humans, only about one percent of our genomic composition is human, while the rest is derived from the microbiome. We suspected that the microbiome was different in patients with and without cancer, and this study proved that,” Bukavina added.

The research team now hypothesizes that the microbiome in the gut primes the immune system to respond differently to both the cancer cells and chemotherapy, and wants to explore whether certain bioactive small molecules produced by the microbiome can affect chemotherapy response. They are primed to interrogate this hypothesis now based on Bukavina’s findings.

The end goal of the project is to first identify and then influence specific microbes or metabolites—byproducts of the metabolic process—that improve the response of bladder cancer patients to chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The research Bukavina will present at the ASCO GU symposium is the first step toward this goal.

Bukavina and her mentor, Phillip Abbosh, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the Molecular Therapeutics research program at Fox Chase, compared the microbiomes of patients with bladder cancer and a cancer-free control group by collecting and analyzing stool samples from both groups. Bukavina said the study was a team effort that included Adam Calaway, MD, MPH, of the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, who assisted with patient recruitment.

“Dr. Bukavina showed great initiative in developing and executing this study, which is addressing very important questions. Her work is certainly deserving of this prestigious honor,” Abbosh said.

If they found no difference between the two groups, then there would be no clear route for intervention. However, they found significantly larger quantities of two bacteria, Campylobacter and Fusobacterium, in the samples from the bladder cancer patients versus samples from non-cancer subjects.

“Now that we’ve identified the differences, the next step is to look at the microbiome of bladder cancer patients who responded to chemotherapy versus patients who did not respond to chemotherapy,” she said.

“We are thrilled Dr. Bukavina is getting the recognition she deserves through this ASCO Genitourinary Conquer Cancer Merit Award. She is a fierce, up-and-coming leader in urologic oncology, dedicating herself to research that covers numerous aspects of complex urologic care in cancer patients. Dr. Bukavina deserves this accolade and so much more as a rising female leader in this field. We are excited she will be returning to University Hospitals Urology Institute as faculty next year,” said Lee Ponsky, MD, FACS, chair of the institute, which is in Cleveland.

The study, “Characterization and Functional Analysis of Microbiome in Bladder Cancer,” was funded by the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center Microbiome Grant P30CA043703 issued by the National Cancer Institute within the National Institutes of Health.

About University Hospitals / Cleveland, Ohio
Founded in 1866, University Hospitals serves the needs of patients through an integrated network of 23 hospitals (including 5 joint ventures), more than 50 health centers and outpatient facilities, and over 200 physician offices in 16 counties throughout northern Ohio. The system’s flagship quaternary care, academic medical center, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Oxford University and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. The main campus also includes the UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the nation; UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital, Ohio's only hospital for women; and UH Seidman Cancer Center, part of the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. UH is home to some of the most prestigious clinical and research programs in the nation, with more than 3,000 active clinical trials and research studies underway. UH Cleveland Medical Center is perennially among the highest performers in national ranking surveys, including “America’s Best Hospitals” from U.S. News & World Report. UH is also home to 19 Clinical Care Delivery and Research Institutes. UH is one of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio with more than 30,000 employees. Follow UH on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter. For more information, visit UHhospitals.org.

About University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center

UH Seidman Cancer Center is the only freestanding cancer hospital in Northeast Ohio, where all clinicians and staff are dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer while researching new and innovative treatment options through clinical trials. Nationally ranked cancer care is also available to patients through the 11-county region at 18 community-based locations. Our UH Seidman specialists make up 14 cancer-specific teams focused on determining integrated care plans tailored to patient’s needs. UH Seidman Cancer Center is part of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University, one of 51 comprehensive cancer centers in the country. Patients have access to advanced treatment options, ranging from a pioneering stem cell transplant program founded more than 40 years ago and a wide range of immunotherapy to the first and only proton therapy center in northern Ohio for adults and children. Go to UHhospitals.org/Seidman for more information.

About Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is one of the country's leading private research institutions. Located in Cleveland, we offer a unique combination of forward-thinking educational opportunities in an inspiring cultural setting. Our leading-edge faculty engage in teaching and research in a collaborative, hands-on environment. Our nationally recognized programs include arts and sciences, dental medicine, engineering, law, management, medicine, nursing and social work. About 5,800 undergraduate and 6,300 graduate students comprise our student body. Visit case.edu to see how Case Western Reserve thinks beyond the possible.

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence five consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

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